Bishop Estévez Blesses Grounds of New Diocesan Cemetery

Bishop Estévez gave the homily at the groundbreaking ceremony. (photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Woody Huband)

The souls of Catholics and non-Catholics alike will have a new resting place in the Diocese of St. Augustine later this year at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery.

On Thursday, March 11, Bishop Felipe Estévez officiated a blessing and groundbreaking ceremony where the new cemetery will be built on the grounds of Prince of Peace Catholic Church (6320 Bennett Road, Jacksonville).

The cemetery, built on roughly four acres of land, will include a four-walled columbarium with 192 niches and an octagonal columbarium with another 72 niches. In-ground cremation burials will be available as well.

The bishop began by thanking those in attendance for their dedication to this diocesan project including, Prince of Peace parishioners, diocesan officials, the parish’s pastor and priests, fathers Callistus Onwere, Calonge Lemaine and Lam Nguyen, the chairman of the diocesan Catholic Cemeteries Committee, Father Tim Lindenfelsner, the diocesan director of Catholic Cemeteries Keith Rezendes and more.

According to Bishop Estévez, Gate of Heaven Cemetery will be a vital part of the diocese.

“This is very important for our Catholic families because we want our deceased brothers and sisters to be in a Catholic cemetery next to a parish where the Eucharist is celebrated for them day-by-day,” said the bishop.

Bishop Estévez’s homily focused on the words of St. Paul: “We hope in Him.” As Catholics, we must focus on the risen Christ, especially during Lent, as he gives us life after death. He also drew attention to the tragedy of people dying alone in hospitals due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It reminds us that our life is not eternal. Like the Bible put so well, there is “a time to give birth, and a time to die,” he said. “And that time comes upon all of us, without exception… but for us Christians, it is not a dreadful way of thinking; it is hopeful.”

The bishop reflected on his time as a pastor in Miami when he would take school children to visit the local cemetery. One parent expressed anger at exposing their child to the idea of death, but Bishop Estévez responded, saying. “I respect your choice, but I take these children here because even the youth need to know this catechesis: that life does not end in the tomb. It is a transition to eternal life – a life of hope in the Lord.”

The ceremony ended with Bishop Estévez blessing the soil before breaking ground alongside fathers Tim Lendenfelser, Callistus Onwere, Calonge Lemaine and Lam Nguyen, Keith Rezendes.

(From left) Father Callistus Onwere, Bishop Felipe Estévez, Keith Rezendes, Father Tim Lindenfelser, Father Calonge Lemaine and Lam Nguyen break ground on the future cemetery’s property. (photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Woody Huband)